This is the Way the World Ends (I)

Just recently I finished one of Orson Scott Card’s more recent books, Empire. If you don’t know, Orson Scott Card is one of the best and most famous science fiction writers of the last few decades…right up there with Asimov for me. He’s responsible for the universe of Ender Wiggen and Bean, including perhaps his most famous book, Ender’s Game. If you haven’t read Ender’s Game, it’s definitely worth it.

But enough advertising for Card. Empire is a story of a hypothetical war between the radical Left and the extreme Right in America—yes, the political affiliations—with most people caught in the middle. In the story it is set up as the only possible kind of civil war America can have at this point in its history, and the view is very plausible. The story really was a page-turner, to the point that on one day I didn’t make it to dinner until half an hour later than I had planned. (I read a lot, so take that as you will.)

But this book actually scared me. Not because I got so absorbed in it, but because it felt chillingly plausible. (Yes, I actually used the word “chillingly”.)

(Abrupt apparent change of topic) When driving up to Ashland, OR from San Jose, you pass a farmhouse with a large sign saying “Jefferson State”. The first time I noticed it I asked my parents what it was.

At one time (actually, a few times) people in Northern California and Southern Oregon felt their politics were so different from the dominant groups’ that they decided they would really prefer to be their own state. That’s slanting it one way; the other slant (which is probably just as valid, if not more) is that the capital governments are so far away and the urban populations of each state could easily overrule the rural inhabitants of “Jefferson”. I won’t go into details, but as of April 2008 there’s still no official Jefferson state…although some of the residents may still identify with it. Wikipedia says the last real “secession movement” ended in 1941, which is of course just about when the US entered World War II.

What? I thought, There are still secessionists? It seemed ridiculous, and yet there it was. There were people who thought that being part of California restricted them. Not just a few people scattered throughout the state, but a majority or at least a strong plurality in a certain region.

We return now to the main subject of the post: Empire. Jefferson State was not really an issue of Left vs. Right, but it did and does show that there are still people today who believe they don’t want to be part of their government, and prefer changing the government rather than moving. Which is valid, I suppose…but the radical Left and the extreme Right in Empire are the same way. Are there people in the Left and Right in the real America who feel the same way? That to be ruled by a president whose politics are far enough opposite is a reason for military rebellion?

I’m scared that there are, or that there could be within the next few decades. It doesn’t take a majority; heck, it doesn’t even take either of the two major political parties. A few crazy Americans with the right technology really could take over a region of the country and force political recognition of some kind. The whole thing would have to be very carefully handled — to minimize the blow to America, because there’s no way this can turn out positive in the first place. If things aren’t handled carefully, or if something goes wrong, who knows what might happen?

I think about the views of the radical conservative and the liberal extremist and I see very little in common. Even “normal” people disagree on issues like abortion, death penalty, gender/sexuality issues (that’s as politically neutral as I can get on that), purpose of religion in government, immigration, and the roles of government in health care, homeland security, businesses, welfare…generally but not always split on party lines. Or at least related issues split on party lines. Why do we all live in the same country if we don’t agree with each other’s politics?

And some of the answers make sense. A moderate country really is best, and we get that from balance and compromise. Our politics come at least partly from our environment and occupation…and we need a lot of jobs to get done even if they’re done by people we disagree with. But this isn’t really enough to stop the uneasiness, that a group of political radicals from within America is as bad as a group of religious radicals from outside America.

(Of course this post has a liberal slant to it; I know I’m a liberal. Try to take it politically neutrally even if you would disagree with my views on “the issues” normally.)

There’s one thing, though, that was finally enough to make me stop worrying. (Unfortunately it wasn’t trust in the American people. *sigh*) I remembered that I have friends who are more liberal than me and friends who are more conservative than me. (And yes, the labels suck, but they’re there.) The logical side of me says that it shouldn’t be possible, that I shouldn’t be friends with someone who believes the polar opposite of what I do on something I actually think is important. (To the extent that I think political issues are important at all.) But it’s true all the same…and in Empire, the main character is a conservative and his wife is a liberal. It’s possible, and I still don’t know how, but as long as there are strong bonds even across political lines, I am reassured that it is less and less likely that anything like Empire will happen anytime soon. I can’t turn against all conservatives when some of them are my friends, no, and I would hope they would realize the same about me.

I don’t really think this is going to happen…but it’s interesting and a little scary to talk about. If you’re interested in politics-history-anthro, Empire is a good read. And it’s got action bits too, if you like that sort of stuff. (I’m not going to tell you who initiates the attack in Empire; apart from spoiling it, that’s one of the points the book tries to make.) In a few days or weeks I’ll post another para-Apocalyptic scenario.

Don’t dismiss this scenario out of hand, though. It’s not likely, but it’s certainly possible…